Published November 1, 2021 at ZekeFilm.org.
Wes Anderson’s Latest is Feast of Flavor and Fun
DIRECTOR: WES ANDERSON/2021
Upon leaving my screening of The French Dispatch, the first thing I did was stop by the grocery store. Never mind that it was after 9 p.m.—I wanted fresh bread. After reviewing what was left in the bakery thrice over, I went home and lit a candle. I changed into cozier clothes, and I started boiling water. I pulled out my toaster in the top cupboard above the fridge, reacquainted myself with my French press, and dug out a mug I bought in England from the deepest corner of my cupboard. Never mind that it was almost 10 p.m.—I had just tasted a feast, and I wanted to savor any morsels of it I could.
While I have not told you any specifics of The French Dispatch, I’ve told you everything you need to know. The French Dispatch made me hungry, and not because of the coffee in the student cafe of Ennui-sur-Blasé or because of the burnt toast in Frances McDormand’s office. I wanted to share a slice of birthday cake with Owen Wilson and Elisabeth Moss because I was hungry for a slice of their joie de vivre. This film is a feast for all senses, and it’s so wide a spread I couldn’t take it all in. Still, I left hungry for more.
I expect this is what editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) would want. We are watching the publication of the final issue of his magazine, and no detail is unimportant to an editor. This film collects the pieces found inside, and it follows Arthur’s two most important rules:
- Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.
- No crying.
We begin with an obituary, but there’s no time for tears when there’s so much to make you laugh or when you’re trying to keep up with Wilson on his bicycle tour of Ennui. Adrien Brody, Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, and Tilda Swinton share the story of an artist who finds a new voice in prison. Timothée Chalamet, McDormand, and Christoph Waltz document a student revolution. Jeffrey Wright tells Liev Schreiber of the life-saving Chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park) and his diners (Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan). Anjelica Huston narrates, and Murray’s staff (including Moss and Jason Schwartzman) tie this anthology together in the interstitials.
I haven’t mentioned every cast member—that alone could fill up my word count—but the power of The French Dispatch is not just star power. Some of our favorite performers are at their best in Anderson’s world, but they are the not reason we want to live in it. Here the sets are built with the same intricacy and choreography as the biggest theatrical productions. The transition between color, black-and-white, and animation is fluid. We use phrases like “chess revolution,” and how wine and ice cream are arranged on a serving tray matters. In Wes Anderson’s world, delight is a virtue.
As is his style, these delights create a more palatable plate to deliver tales of pain and woe. Dispatch is a laugh-out-loud comedy—adhering to Arthur’s second rule—but it’s a comedy of prison, protest, kidnapping, and death both by natural causes and foul play. Most of all, it’s a comedy of loneliness, and the dry humor and absurd hijinks don’t come at the expense of our characters. The journalist cognoscenti and their subjects are handled with more care than that little mug I transported across the Atlantic to remember studying in Europe. On stage, in prison, or on a bike, our writers sit alone as they serve their stories, peripatetics longing to be part of the articles they are writing but never fitting in. They are outcasts, drifters, and expats documenting the loneliness of inmates, kidnap victims, and others trapped in less literal cages. Though each episode becomes more and more fantastic, what is more relatable than isolation?
Perhaps it’s because I have a journalism degree and enjoy diagramming sentences, but the pages of The French Dispatch filled me with more delight than any other Anderson film to date. I usually don’t root for whatever taboo romance he develops, but I rooted for a May-December couple here. I sometimes feel cool detachment from his characters, but the residents of Ennui are people instead of punchlines. And I typically feel nudity in films furthers the objectification and commercialization of women’s bodies, but—nope, I still felt that way. It’s my sole complaint about The French Dispatch—call it the proverbial radish in Nescaffier’s otherwise scrumptious dinner.
Wes Anderson is an icon of composition and color theory, but The French Dispatch transcends that reputation. This film is filled with a zest for life that makes its audience feel more alive. It will make you run to the grocery store and slather on the Nutella. It will cause you to brew coffee the slow way and drink it before bed. It will remind you of a mug you stored in its original packaging so it wouldn’t break when you moved, even though you had no idea when you would move. It will make you want to surround yourself with the most flavorful things you can even when everything in suburbia closes by 9 p.m. For some of you, that sounds corny, but I can live with that—you can just believe I wrote it to sound that way on purpose.